By Barney Blakeney
Charleston Mayor John Tecklenburg says he’s the best choice for mayor in the November 5 municipal elections for a lot of reasons, but primarily because he’s the only candidate with the proven ability to lead the city. Filling that role after former Mayor Joseph Riley’s 40-year tenure seemed daunting, but Tecklenburg feels he’s proven he’s up to the task and is poised for a second term.
Asked why he feels he’s best suited for the job Tecklenburg responded, “Over the past four years, we’ve kept Charleston safe, strong and successful while focusing on the issues our citizens care about most–fighting flooding, protecting neighborhood livability with new limits on hotels, short term rentals, additional affordable housing and more. I believe voters will respond positively to our accomplishments and vision for Charleston’s future.”
Months before the August 5 start of candidate filing, the struggle to become the city’s next mayor became intense. A crowded field of potential candidates surfaced. Tecklenburg appreciates the competition, but respectfully asserts himself as the most experienced candidate – and one who emerges with four years on the job under his belt. As a businessman and entrepreneur Tecklenburg founded Southern Oil Company in 1978, which he successfully owned and operated for nearly 20 years. Upon selling the business, he was appointed to serve as Director of Economic Development for the City of Charleston. He helped lead the revitalization of Upper King Street.
While some of his apparent challengers have engaged in political rhetoric, Tecklenburg says he’s focused on the issues he thinks are important to Charleston and its citizens. Flooding and drainage are a top priority, he says. A seaside city, Charleston perpetually floods. With an eye on the future, Tecklenburg is bringing a vision and perspective to what some see as a plaguing problem. He proposes to find ways to mitigate the problem as he leads the city in developing ways to live with water. He’s not looking for quick fixes that sound good in theory, but long term solutions.
Next on his list of priorities is housing that allows Charleston to remain a diverse functional community with a unique quality of life. A number of uncontrollable forces are driving up the cost of housing in the region. Government can’t do as much as is needed, he admitted. Simply put, the demand for low cost housing affordable to the working class exceeds the supply, he said.
But in the past two years, Tecklenburg has found $40 million new dollars for low cost housing initiatives. He brought closure to the decades-long Charleston Place loan stymie and used its $20 million in addition to the $20 million low cost housing referendum he pushed to put more money on the table for low cost housing than all that’s been provided before his administration. After more than 15 years, his administration began construction on low cost housing slated for the footprint left at Meeting and Lee streets after the Arthur Ravenel Bridge construction.
That’s the kind of vision and ‘roll up your sleeves to get it done’ discipline Tecklenburg says he brings to the table. It’s a vision and work ethic tempered by an artist’s creativity and Christian spirit, said the musician who each Thursday night for 32 years played with the Ray Michaels Band at Gennero’s in North Charleston. It’s the same passion, commitment and dedication he employed soon after being elected as he met homelessness in Charleston closing Tent City, a sprawling homeless encampment that had developed in our North Central neighborhood. He followed up by forming the Mayors’ Council on Homelessness and Affordable Housing which works to develop a long-term regional approach to the challenge.
Tecklenburg says there is much unfinished business in the city – a long planned, but unimplemented collaborative with South Carolina State University for an Eastside community center and the West Ashley Revitalization Commission working directly with citizens to create a master plan that will guide the area’s development for years to come and gentrification that displaces residents are some.
Managing the city is like eating an elephant, Tecklenburg says – you take one bite at a time. He’s had a mouthful in his first term, but he’s still hungry. The first four years whet his appetite. He’s ready for the main course over the next four years.